On Courage

“Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?” Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.” Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?” Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.” In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear.” (Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, (Shambhala; Anniversary edition, 2016) pages 33-34.

I am inspired by the wisdom that permeates the stories told by Pema Chodron.  Her lesson is one that drives to the heart of true courage, a concept which is the focus of our SoulMatters theme for October. In When Things Fall Apart she comments on this tale saying:

“It’s a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately filling up the space. By waiting, we begin to connect with fundamental restlessness as well as fundamental spaciousness.

The result is that we cease to cause harm. We begin to know ourselves thoroughly and to respect ourselves. Anything can come up, anything can walk into our house; we can find anything sitting on our living-room couch, and we don’t freak out. We have been thoroughly processed by coming to know ourselves, thoroughly processed by this honest, gentle mindfulness.”

The road to courage begins with knowing oneself.  It is a journey that does not begin with dreams and ambitions to change the world. Instead courage beings with a sense that we best know ourselves and through that knowledge gain the wisdom to respond with compassion instead of reacting with fear to whatever it is that we encounter.

I’ve been thinking of that this week as I continue to deal with the pain of a strained back.  Along with many of the available over-the-counter treatments part of what I have been drawn to is a conversation with myself about what I have carried that has been weighty, so much so that strain has been my back’s response.  The meditation has been enlightening.  I have been surprised that as I have consciously laid things aside psychically, I have experienced relief.  Our bodies are also something we ought to spend time in conversation. 

In a day and age when we are taught to find ways to “treat” pain and fear, our great teachers recommend that we begin with conversation, allowing us to listen to that which we have given power to and through this conversation to regain the power that is ours to wield.  We are all warriors.  Might we have the courage to listen especially to all that scares us.